Saturday

21st Sep 2019

EU Socialists, conservatives, play 'dictator badminton' over Tunisia

  • Left and right barbs over relations with the ex-leader (Photo: tyle_r)

Socialists and conservatives in the European Parliament have accused each other of cosying up to Tunisian ex-dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, with senior figures in the French political establishment also tainted by association.

Left-wingers and human rights organisations have been strident in their criticism of conservatives such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy for his government's close ties and support of the ousted Tunisian leader.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

But on Tuesday (18 January), after it was revealed that Mr Ali's political party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), was a member of the Socialist International, the global alliance of centre-left parties, the RCD was expelled.

Martin Schulz, the leader of the left in the parliament, offered a mea culpa for its embrace of the party: "Now and again, we do discover that there are members of our own family and are shocked by this. They were however expelled today from the Socialist International, but it is perfectly true that he was a member."

He said that the uprising in Tunisia had been the product of "dramatic inequality", with "very rich elites and very poor masses" and that the EU "will have to work closely with other partners this side of the Mediterranean to ensure that democratic legislation can be put into place and social justice can be finalised."

He added that he hoped the instability was not going to spread from Tunisia.

Mr Schulz then used the opportunity to accuse his opposite numbers in the chamber, the centre-right European People's Party of cosying up to the ex-dictator.

"Recently there was signed a co-operation agreement with the EPP [and the RCD]. You can see it webstreamed," he said. "It is a really interesting party because they were a member of the Socialist International and the EPP too."

"Well, this is really interesting - I think this explains for me why the EPP hasn't attacked [Ben Ali's government and his allies] yet. They're willing to take anyone and everyone. Anyone can be a member."

A spokesman for the EPP told EUobserver that the Socialists seem to "have only discovered now in the last two days that Ben Ali is a bad man."

"If they've expelled them, well good for them, but it's been a quick conversion. The RCD was a member for decades. They were brothers in arms for the last 30 years."

"If you look at any of their big meetings, you see that there has been a full, wholesome partnership with the party in Tunisia all this time."

Elsewhere in north Africa, the party of Egyptian hardman Hosni Mubarak, the National Democratic Party, is also a member of the Socialist International.

The Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament could not tell EUobserver whether this fact also came as a surprise or whether the NDP should also be expelled from the international Socialist alliance.

DSK: 'Tunisia a model for emerging countries'

Meanwhile, centre-right French foreign minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who has been under sustained assault from the Tunisian community in France and human rights NGOs for her offer last week to sent riot police to help put an end to the uprising, on Tuesday complained that her words had been taken out of context and "misrepresented".

"I'd spent the night in an aeroplane and it's possible I did not express myself well. I began to doubt myself, but afterwards I re-read my proposal to see that it was what actually what I thought and not what was being interpreted by certain people."

Strauss-Kahn

The head of the International Monetary Fund and frontrunning name to win the French Socialist Party's presidential nomination in 2012, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was also under heavy criticism this week as his long-standing support for the Tunisian regime has been steadily revealed.

The growth of extreme inequality in Tunisia may now be explained by his colleague Mr Schulz as to why the uprising has taken place, but in November 2008, Mr Kahn called on other developing nations to adopt the Tunisian economic and political model.

"I expect strong growth in Tunisia this year, economic policy adopted here is a sound policy and is the best model for many emerging countries," he said on a visit to Carthage.

Meeting with the governor of the country's central bank, he said at the time: "Our discussions confirmed that we share many of the same views on Tunisia's achievements and main challenges."

"Tunisia is making impressive progress in its reform agenda and its prospects are favorable." 


Mr Ben Ali also awarded Mr Strauss-Kahn the Order of the Tunisian Republic, the country's highest honour for his "intellectual qualities" and "contribution to the reinforcement of economic development at the global level".

Kouchner

Straddling the ideological divide, Bernard Kouchner, the long-time Socialist who left his party to take up the post of French foreign minister in a conservative government, also frequently downplayed the authoritarian character of the Ben Ali administration.

Under his watch, in April, 2009, France reached a nuclear energy co-operation deal with Tunis and delivered an €80 million aid package. The month before, criticised by NGOs for the closeness of the two governments, he said: "It's true that there are human rights abuses in Tunisia, journalists who are harassed, sometimes imprisoned, and a general policy of firmness," before going on to praise the country's economic and social achievements, in particular the status of women and the values of secularism.

"Every year, Human Rights Watch publishes a large book on the state of human rights around the world," he said, but "Tunisia hardly figures at all."

However, the previous year, the most recent edition of the HRW survey contained no fewer than six pages of criticisms, detailing torture, pressure on the judiciary and press censorship.

Last week, Europe One reported that Mr Kouchner could become the new UN high representative for the reconstruction of Haiti, after lobbying on the part of President Sarkozy.

Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

European People's Party group leader Manfred Weber defended Ursula von der Leyen's decision to rename a commission portfolio, partly dealing with migration, "protecting the European way of life". He said it means rescuing people in the Mediterranean.

Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Hungary was quizzed by EU ministers over its domestic crackdown on media, judges, academia and NGOs. Hungary's minister responded by saying the country had defended "the European way of life" for centuries, and it should be respected.

EU divided on how to protect rule of law

Poland and Hungary have argued that rule of law is purely a domestic matter and the EU should respect legal traditions, but Dutch foreign minister warned backsliding was a worry for all.

Catalonia celebrates national day ahead of trial verdicts

Catalonia celebrated on Wednesday its national day - while awaiting the trial verdict on 12 Catalan separatists, former politicians of Carles Puigdemont's government. That decision is expected for early October.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'
  2. UK secrecy on Brexit holds back wider EU talks
  3. Feminist mass protest in Spain after 19 murders this summer
  4. Global climate strike starts ahead of UN summit
  5. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  6. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  7. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  8. Germany takes carbon border tax on board

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Europe goes to New York This WEEK
  2. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  3. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  4. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  5. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  6. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  7. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  8. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us